Sony Walkman NW-S205F
- Sports features such as pedometer and calorie counter, automatic playlist switching based on pace, excellent sound quality, bundled accessories, active shuffle feature, rapid recharge
- SonicStage software is difficult to use, screen hard to read in direct sunlight, moving between features is fiddly due to the one-line display
For active users, this is the best all-in-one music player package
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
Portable music players are a dime a dozen, and despite a good portion of people using them while exercising, surprisingly few players cater specifically for this active demographic. Thankfully, Sony has never been shy about trailblazing, and the 2GB Walkman NW-S205F packs in more workout-specific features than any other music player we've seen.
Sony's extensive experience in consumer electronics really comes to the fore with the NW-S205F. From the metallic, Cadbury-purple box, to the solidly-constructed player, to the included accessories tailor-made for exercising, everything smacks of good quality and attention to detail.
The player itself doesn't look like a conventional music player. The cylindrical shape makes it look more like a test-tube, but unlike its fragile look-alike, the aluminium-clad NW-S205F feels solid as a rock, and could likely withstand a lot of abuse. While other Sony flash players are typically available in a variety of fruity colours, this one is only available in black or silver for the 1GB version and black for the 2GB (which we tested).
A one-line Organic LE (Electro Luminescent) Display screen shows track information and menu items, and this works with the rocker switch and playback buttons to control music and access the other features. The good thing about this type of display is that it doesn't require a backlight, which in turn saves on battery life. The bad thing is that it's virtually impossible to see in direct sunlight.
One-line displays are also trickier to use than regular-sized ones, especially when you're trying to cram a lot of features in. The NW-S05F isn't the sort of player you can just pick up and use off the bat, but the learning curve isn't too steep once you whip the Quick Start guide out.
That is, unless you're looking for information on using the exercise features. The Quick Start guide only makes a passing reference to the sports mode, and unless you know where to find the full Operation Guide (it's hidden in the Program folder for SonicStage), it's a hard slog figuring out how to use each function.
Based on the height, weight and age you insert into the settings, the NW-S205F calculates distance travelled and calories burned using Sony's patented 'G-sensor' technology - a gyroscope that "senses the gravitational movement" of the player. This also works with the Music Pacer feature, which automatically changes your music to the Walking or Running playlists based on the speed of your stride, preceded by a voice asking you to enjoy that playlist. If you straddle between walking and running pace, however, you'll constantly hear this voice asking you to enjoy music that you're really not hearing much of due to the interruptions. Worse, each pace change restarts the playlist to the beginning, rather than fading into the music you're currently listening to. Thankfully, you can turn the playlist feature off.
An innovative inclusion is the 'shaking shuffle' feature. When in regular play mode, shaking the NW-S205F three times turns Shuffle on. Doing this again turns it off. Sure, you'll look slightly odd peforming this action on the street or in a gym, but it certainly beats fiddling around with small controls when you're trying to concentrate on your workout. Also included is an FM tuner, and the rocker switch makes it simple to auto-scan through available radio stations
Bundled accessories are usually a nice-to-have, but in the NW-S205F's case, they greatly enhance the player's appeal as a sports companion. A velcro arm-band holds the player securely in a plastic rack, and it can only slide in one way to ensure the rocker switch, playback controls and display are always accessible. The earbuds are surprisingly good for a default pair, with an over-the-ear design that fastens securely to your ears so they don't fall out during vigorous exercise. The cable is also sufficiently long so you can extend your arm completely while using it in the arm-band.
As with many flash players, the NW-S205F eschews a dedicated AC charger for a USB cable that tops up the battery while it's connected to a PC. Unlike Sony's other flash music player, the NW-E003F, the USB connector isn't built-in. Rather, the end of the player pops off to reveal the mini-USB port that you connect to the cable. Thankfully the port cover is attached to the player, so you don't have to worry about losing it.
Suitable for 'active lifestyle' users is the Rapid Recharge function; connect it to a USB port for three minutes to get three-hours-worth of playback time. When fully charged, battery life is quoted at up to 18 hours.
The NW-S205F shows up as a removable hard drive when you connect it to a PC, however you need to install the bundled SonicStage software to transfer music over. This is because the player can't actually play MP3, WMA and AAC files natively - tracks first need to be converted to Sony's proprietary ATRAC format using SonicStage. Unfortunately, this program looks more like a professional sound editing application than it does a music transfer program, so adding music to the player can be intimidating, not to mention frustrating.
At least there's little complaint when it comes to actually listening to the music. Sony was plugging away in the personal audio space decades before the iPod was a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, and this shows in the NW-S05F's outstanding sound quality. Treble is crystal clear, bass is driving and punchy, and tonal range is excellent.
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